Climate strike, climate justice and a just transition

By Cecile Wilson

In Ottawa-Gatineau, the Fridays For Future’s Global Climate Strike will be take place at noon on Friday, September 23. The themes of the march are Together For Climate Justice and People Not Profit.

The wealth divide

Why focus on climate justice? It’s simple. Carbon emissions cause a rise in temperature. A rise in temperature destabilizes global weather systems, which leads to an increased likelihood of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, heat waves and more frequent and severe storms. Everyone around the world is vulnerable to climate disasters, but despite contributing the least to climate chaos, the poorest people have the fewest resources to cope with it.

The wealthy one to 10 per cent have more and better resources to protect themselves and their families from extreme weather. They are also the ones who bear the greatest responsibility for creating climate breakdown.

The emissions gap

Carbon emissions are inextricably linked to both consumption and investments. Those with the highest incomes typically consume the most. A 2021 Oxfam International report calculated that if nothing changes, by 2030 the richest one per cent will be emitting 30 times more than the emission level needed to limit the world’s average temperature increase to 1.5°C degrees above pre-industrial times. Meanwhile, emissions from the poorest half of the world’s population are set to remain well below that level.

Where do the emissions of the one per cent come from? Transportation is a huge contributor. The Oxfam report refers to a 2020 study which found that about one per cent of the world’s population is probably responsible for half of all aviation emissions. Another study calculated that the annual greenhouse gas emissions of a single superyacht is 7,000 tonnes!

Investment capital

The impact of investment capital is even greater. The world’s 60 largest commercial and investment banks, including Canada’s Big Five, have together invested US$3.8 trillion into fossil fuels between 2016 and 2020. This favouritism towards fossil fuels is reflected in personal investment portfolios as well. A 2021 paper concluded that capital investments contributed up to 70 per cent of the emissions attributed to the world’s top emitters.

Even for those of us who are far from being members of the one-per-cent club, our investments are likely responsible for the majority of our greenhouse gas emissions. The Canada Pension Plan, the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan and Canada’s major banks are all heavily invested in fossil fuel projects. As most of us recognize, burning fossil fuels for transportation, heating and electricity is the main driver of climate breakdown.

Corporate and social responsibility

Some argue that the problem is systemic, and we shouldn’t be looking at individual carbon footprints. That is a valid point. However, corporations are managed by individuals. It also happens that many of those individuals are richly rewarded for their management and belong to the top emitters. They are in positions to show leadership and to change the direction of their firms away from financing climate catastrophe and towards a just transition. A transition that ensures everyone has the ability to look after themselves and their families. A transition that develops green technologies in a socially responsible manner without irreparably damaging local environments and puts people ahead of extravagant profits.

Even if we move quickly to cut carbon emissions, we will still experience negative climate effects. After all, the temperature has already risen 1.1° C. It’s time for the highest emitting nations, like Canada, to make financial reparations to the nations who are suffering the consequences of our high emissions.

Scientists say we have the technologies right now to drastically reduce our emissions. What we need is the social momentum to build a just and compassionate transition that doesn’t continue the same practices of exploitation that have led us to this humanitarian and ecological crisis.

2030 is only eight years away. Isn’t it wise to start transitioning to a lower emission economy right now so we can head off even worse effects of climate breakdown? Isn’t it ethical to make payments to people who are suffering right now?

Add your voice to the Fridays For Future Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 23 starting at noon. The starting point is Confederation Park across from City Hall. All ages welcome!

Cecile Wilson is a Glebe resident who was spurred into climate activism by the 2018 IPCC Report that warned we have 12 years to stop the worst effects of the climate crisis. We now have eight years.

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